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October 27, 2014
By Daniel Lefferts
A professional-quality author photo is crucial for self-publishers.

You've written your book, hired editors, produced print and e-book editions, planned a marketing campaign, and are ready for launch -- but have you considered the little things -- like your author photo?

A professional-quality author photo is crucial for self-publishers, and every indie author should include a photograph—ideally one taken by a professional—on her book jacket and in her marketing materials. At a time when many consumers hear about books online, having an author photo allows a writer to put a human face to her book.

Aaron Cooley, whose self-published Ian Fleming-inspired mystery novel, Shaken, Not Stirred, was named by Indie Reader as one of the best indie books of 2013, found it useful to have an author photo on hand for promotional purposes.

“I used the author photo for social media," he says. "If there was an interview, and someone asked for a photo…I would use one from the set of author photos.”

By the same token, an author should be aware that photos may be used without permission.

“Some people are great,” Cooley says. “They say ‘Send us the photos you want.' But I did at least one interview where they just grabbed [a photo] that they found online. It’s a lesson: Once photos are online, you never know how people are going to use them. Don’t ever put a photo online that you’re just okay with.”

Finding Photographers or Doing It Yourself

The best way to shop for photographers is by word-of-mouth. Another method is to look at existing author photos and contact the photographers who took them (typically credited below or near the photo). Fees will be commensurate with the photographer’s experience, and can range from $100 to well over $1,000. Be aware, too, that some may charge separately for the actual photo session and the rights to the photos.

If an author decides to create her author photo without the help of a professional, she should be mindful of common photography missteps. In their book, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier suggest avoiding cluttered backgrounds, out-of-focus shots, and photos that are generally uninteresting.

An author photo, they write, “could be irreverent or quirky or even slightly bizarre—but it should give you a sense of the persona of the author and most of all be close up enough that you can actually see the face.”